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Ullrhaven

Late 50's to Mid 60's

Name of Ski Area: Ullrhaven
Location: Fairbanks (Ester), On the Ester Dome Road, near the summit of Ester Dome
Type of Area: Ski Hill
Dates of Operation: Late 50's to mid 60's
Who Built It?: The Ester Dome Ski Association which consisted mostly of students built this ski area on university land.  It was planned for students to run this ski area, but then the ski area closed.
Base/Top/ Vertical Drop: Base ~2000', Top: 2200', Vertical: ~200'
Lifts: 2 rope tows run by the same motor.  Rope tows went in two directions around a wheel arrangement that was at the intersection of both tows.  Tows were driven by and old pickup truck.  A rope tow cut was made in the trees to the east of the dual rope tow, but it is unsure if this tow was ever installed.
Facilities: A hexagonal log cabin was on top of ridge, with great views.  This was a smart place to build the lodge.  On cold days with temperature inversions, the lodge would be at the warmest part of the ski area. The lodge stood until the mid '80's.  In the lodge's later years, after the ski area was closed, it was used for parties and weddings.
Miscellaneous: A rumor, was that once the area was developed, the owner of Cleary Summit complained to Governor Egan about his private enterprise having to compete with the University.  As a result, the ski area was shut down.

However, the real reason the ski are shut down, according to neighboring land owner Carla Helfferich, was because the ski area was undercapitalized and was not making enough money to keep it in operation.

See research correspondence below for more detailed information.

Sources of Information:

Ginny Woods; Roger Evans; Nat Goodhue; John Estle; Andy Sterns; Liz and Merritt Mitchell; Bruce Talbot, State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources; Carla Helfferich; Whitham D. Reeve; Liam Wescott

Photos: Does anyone have old pictures or stories of skiing at Ullrhaven that they would like to contribute to alsap?  Or any present pictures of lift remains, if any, or trails?

 

~  PHOTOS  ~

Ullrhaven Lodge - 1966

[Photo credit: UAA Archives/ Alfred & Mae Bakken Collection]

Here are some shots, courtesy of Liz and Merritt Mitchell, of a ski outing on Ester Dome (where Ullrhaven was to be located) during the early 1950's.

[Photo credits: Liz and Merritt Mitchell]

(16-Nov-04)  Roger Evans, owner of the Moose Mountain Ski Area, took this nice picture of the old Ullrhaven trails in the distance.  Here's his description:

here's a cool photo i took yesterday while grooming.  (you can find brother bear on our ski area map at www.shredthemoose.com)   you can see some old runs and a rope tow line on ester dome.  not sure if there was ever anything more than runs and the lift line clearing.  it almost looks like there's two straight lines, but the one on the left is more obvious.  still can't recall actually seeing a rope down those slopes though.  only the small one at the top, which isn't very visible from here.  I'm about halfway down moose mountain.

it also looks like runs were cleared down below the lift line, but sort of dead ends in the valley.  maybe the plan was to have a second rope down there.  it kind of died before it got started, i think.

takes a long time for black spruce to grow back, eh?

sorry about the resolution.  will try again if i can see it more clearly in the future.  it was the fog and snow that made it a neat view.  you can see the moose mountain road down near the base.  roger evans

The picture Roger sent is to the right.  I zoomed in and cut out a section of the photo to try and show the traces of the Ullrhaven trails that Roger describes above.  Looks like a nice date to be "Shredding the Moose" !

(Click on Roger's photo to expand it)

brother fog and ester dome.jpg (134266 bytes)

 

~  Documents  ~

To the right are excerpts from the 1982 State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources study entitled: "Ski Potential: Fairbanks Area".  This excerpt describes the ski area and the surroundings.

 

~  MAPS  ~

Here's are 1998 aerial views of the Ullrhaven site (click on map to enlarge it): 

This map shows the location of the Ullrhaven ski area site in relation to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

terra_ullrhaven.jpg (104351 bytes)

This zoomed in aerial view shows the lodge site, the 'V' rope tows and the general location of a planned, but possibly never built longer rope tow (click on picture to enlarge it)

terra_zoom_ullrhaven.jpg (104956 bytes)

The 1972 USGS topo maps below show the location of the Ullrhaven ski area (click on map to expand it)

This top map shows the location of Ullrhaven in relation to UAF.

topo_ullrhaven.jpg (193803 bytes)

The detailed view of this 1972 topo map seems to shows the location of the ski lodge.  The rope tows were in the cleared areas to the north, across the road from the lodge.

topo_zoom_ullrhaven.jpg (200198 bytes)

Research Correspondence 
[Dave Brann 2004 phone conversation with Nat Goodhue, now in Vermont] 

Ullrhaven was eventually closed down due to a variety of reasons:

1. The Ester Dome Ski Association (non-profit) was a complex organization.  It was mostly students and the hill was funded through student activity fees.  It was through the use of these fees they were able to buy a chairlift [rope tow?].  Teague Jones, Calif., Bruce Swift, Fairbanks, Howard Katmer, Ambler, Keith??, were members of the Ester Dome Ski Association.  There used to be a button or pin that read "I love Ester Dome".

2. The land the ski hill was built on was a very confused, patchwork of land ownership.  The ski association or the Alaska Ski Cooperation (a for profit group) applied for four trade and manufacturing sites and another for recreation and public purposes from the federal government.  A permit was issued for only one of the trade and manufacturing sites.  The area consisted of about 80 acres.  The Alaska Ski Cooperation had Dave Teague as president.  Ernie Kiser and Herman (the German) Hofstreiter were also involved.  There seemed to be a great deal of confusion about the use of the land, what could and couldn't be done there.  There were sub-surface gold claims also.  If the claims had been filed before 1930 the holders of the claims could utilized the area intended for skiing.  If the claims were made after 1930 the miners then had to deal with the surface activities and try to avoid the ski facilities.  There was also some issue with statehood claims.

3. Lack of finances also caused difficulties, two potential opportunities for funding fell through and a stable source of funding never materialized.

4. Bob McKern (owner of Cleary Summit) cried foul to Governor Bill Egan about the University competing with private enterprise.  At this stage the ski area was terminated

[This] Ester Dome [ski area] is now pretty much desecrated, there are mining claims and a few homes have been built in the area.

[Roger Evans 2003 email] 

hi.  saw your request in the nordic news.

 

i grew up skiing in fairbanks.  i first rode on the rope tows above the steese highway at cleary summit ski area in the 50's.  i remember old "superskier" songs on the jukebox in the lodge.  then they go a t-bar below the road, and the ski area increased to about 700 vertical.  then they replaced the upper rope tows with a t-bar as well.

 

for a short time in the late 50s or early 60s, maybe only one season or so, there was a ski area on Ester Dome, called Ullrhaven.  It had a rope tow that went in two directions, around a wheel arrangement at the intersection of the two, and driven by an old pickup truck.  It may have been run by students, on University land.  The owner of Cleary Summit complained to Governor Egan that the University was putting him out of business, and the ski area was terminated.

 

my parents helped start a ski area called skiland in the early 60's, about a mile from cleary summit.  it was two long rope tows until in the early 90's a chairlift was installed.  last winter they installed lights on the charilift.

 

i built the largest ski area in the interior over the last 13 years.  it is called moose mountain, due to a survey monument called "moose" installed on the rocky summit.  it now has about 40 runs and 1300 vertical and is spread over a mile wide and a mile long.  you can see a picture at www.shredthemoose.com.  skiing down moose mountain, you can look a few miles to the south and see the old ski runs on ester dome.

 

we use a fleet of busses with ski racks instead of aerial or surface lifts.  the skiers seem to like it (i know i do) especially on cool days like last weekend.  it takes 10 busses and drivers to carry as many skiers as a chairlift, but the time to the top is faster, actually, and is very warm and social.

 

good luck with your project.  if i can answer any more questions, I'll be happy to try.

 

roger evans, president

moose mountain, inc

fairbanks

[Roger Evans - October 21, 2004 email excerpt] 

 

i skied at ullrhaven as a child.  it had two rope tows emanating in a v from a single old pickup truck at the base.  it had a longer rope tow (or maybe a plan for one, the runs are still visible from moose) that i never saw down a longer steeper slope.  it was run by some university students, maybe it was university land, and the owner of cleary summit (bob mccann) complained to governor egan that the university was competing with private enterprise, so it closed in the late 50's or early 60's.

[Roger Evans - October 22, 2004 email excerpt] 

 

ok.  i just looked at ullrhaven.  the area you have marked as "southern ski site" is not correct.  the lodge location is correct, but you can still see
the large clearing opposite the lodge from your arrows.  that is the location of the pickup truck V ropes.  the current owner of the land tried to reroute the road around 1990 but the adot didn't allow it.  that's the little loop to the north of the summit. that was the top of one rope, the other was over to the west, approaching the radio towers.  the pickutp truck was down at the base of the clearing.

i drew some lines.  the two ropes run by the truck are on the left.  the long northern rope tow on the right.  you can still see the clearing lines for the long tow in the photo  (TK note: alsap map was fixed on 10/23/94 ... thanks roger !!)

[Andy Stearns - January 30, 2004 email excerpt] 

 

[Word has it] the old rope from one of the ropetows is still there, lying in the tundra, running right alongside some of the fallen down lift "towers" and flywheels.


[Bevinne McCann Morse - December 14, 2005 email excerpt] 

 

I have no stories to contribute to Ullrhaven - but I do have a couple photos I took in '03 from the top. 
 
From Ullrhaven, note dragonfly. From Ullrhaven. From Ullrhaven.
 
I was always taught that Ullrhaven was the place where the good luck saint or swedish god lived.  Ullr was the patron saint of Skiing.  Maybe I'm wrong though.  I have an old medal with a likeness of him with me to this day.


[Carla Helfferich - October 06, 2014 email] 

 

Greetings--

The post on the alsap web site for the Fairbanks-area ski area known as Ullrhaven contains several serious errors.

The lodge and rope tow were built by a group of gung-ho then young downhill skiers who formed the Alaska Ski Corporation. It was not intended to be a nonprofit, though it certainly turned out that way.

The Alaska Ski Association, which was indeed the brainchild of several university students and was always meant to be a nonprofit, lay claim to land uphill and to the north of the rope tow, with an eye toward expanding skiable areas within the scope of the federal homestead act, which permitted 80 acres maximum per claiming entity--hardly adequate for decent downhill development. Note that the Ullrhaven land was originally in federal hands, not property of the university, which owned a plot nearby. I think your source confused the association with the corporation; perhaps the then much-disliked operator of the Cleary Summit ski area did too. I do know that his reputedly high-handed treatment of skiers was one of the motivations for the founding of Ullrhaven. The university itself had nothing to do with the ski area, except insofar as its construction of a geophysical observatory on the summit of Ester Dome led to road improvements and the availability of electricity to the hilltop, including to a power line that was easy and inexpensive for the lodge and tow to access. Of the founding members of the corporation, the hands-on builders of the lodge and tow, I know of only one still alive and still residing in Alaska, engineer Mark Fryer of Anchorage. There may be others, but I don't know who they are.

The lodge closure came because of no gubernatorial action, romantic though that sounds. It came, as so many have, because the effort was undercapitalized from the get-go. The restaurant and bar operating in the lodge carried the costs of operating the ski area for years, but eventually the then-poor road maintenance plus the appearance of more strict building and sanitation codes for food and drink service made it impossible for the corporation to break even, much less make a profit. They couldn't afford the needed improvements.

For years some diehards hoped and planned that Ullrhaven would rise again, but rope tows were no longer competitive, and the lodge was attractive to vandals; it also posed a huge liability potential, and so was dismantled for safety's sake. The corporation itself is still nominally alive, under the management of Charles (Mac) Fields.

I know all this because I've lived on Ester Dome, adjacent to Ullrhaven property, since 1962.

Good luck with your project of cataloguing the old ski areas. It's a worthy effort.

Carla Helfferich


[Whitham D. Reeve - February 2, 2015 email] 

 

Hello - I was a new student at UAF in fall of 1965, and I recall going to several parties at the Ullrhaven Lodge. I was far from 21 years old but everything was so loose in those days that it didn't matter and we were served and drank as much booze as we could consume. There were no problems until later that fall when student Tommy Dome got into a fight (probably over a girl) and the establishment became more strict with checking driver licenses.

I remember a pickup truck near the lodge with a rope tow arrangement. It never looked to me like it was operable but it may well have been at that time.

I vaguely recall that after November or December 1965 the bar in the lodge was only open on special occasions, such as student "holidays" and so forth.

The last time I was at Ullrhaven was mid-winter of 1968/1969, and I believe it was some kind of student organized Christmas party or holiday party. I graduated the next spring and haven't been back up there since. But I often think about the great fun we all had up there. Nobody ever got hurt and we all lived through it.

As for the road off Sheep Creek Road: It was always in good shape as far as I remember. I drove my Corvair up there several times. The Corvair engine was air-cooled and I had to be careful not to overheat on the steep grade, especially when hauling a load of college kids. Of course, going down was easy - I simply shut off the engine and coasted all the way.

It was this steep grade that made the hill great for sledding. We would go up there in the winter, point the sled or tobaggan downhill and let go. The speed would build-up very quickly and it wasn't long before one would fly off at a curve in the road.

Whitham D. Reeve
Anchorage, Alaska USA


[Liam Wescott - February 16, 2015 email] 

 

Hello,

I stumbled upon your page on the old Ullrhaven Ski Lodge and associated ski area recently and wanted to add a few thoughts of my own to what is on the page.  Generally, the information on your page for Ullrhaven is correct, by and large, but there are a couple things you might have missed and/or have posted incorrect information about.

I want to give you a little bit of background on who I am.  My name is Liam Wescott.  I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in April, 1965 and was raised (and have spent most of my life) in Fairbanks.  I grew up on Ester Dome.

My late father, Eugene Wescott (1932-2014) was a professor of geophysics at the Geophysical Institute at UAF.  He got master's and doctoral degrees there and he was a student at UAF when Ullrhaven first got going.  He and Merritt Helfferich, among others, were some of the original stockholders in the Alaska Ski Corporation. 

To the best of my understanding, the ski are was in use from the late 1950s up until the mid-1960s.  It was before my time, of course, but I can still remember as a young boy seeing some of the remnants of the tow rope structures in the woods on the north side of Ester Dome Road.  You could also see (this would have been in the early and mid 1970s) the bunny slope to the west of the observatory when you were coming up Ester Dome Road as well as some of the ski runs cut in through the woods, especially from about where Henderson Road intersects Ester Dome Road.

To the best of my recollection, the ski lodge was still being used as a place for wedding receptions, graduation parties, etc. well up in to the 1970s and I think it was finally more or less abandoned in the early 1980s. I can still recall the ski lodge existing in the early 1980s.  By the time I started going to college at UAF, the lodge was beginning to fall apart.  I have a distinct recollection of it finally being dismantled and taken down in May, 1992.  This would have been probably ten or more years after the last of the parties was held there.

Today, all that is left is a big, flat area with a large hole in the ground where the lodge used to be.  The area is totally overgrown with alders now (February, 2015) and the only remaining part of the ski lodge physical plant are the remnants of the outhouses that were directly south of the lodge itself.

On the issue of the "detour" right around the top of the hill where the lodge and parking lot used to be, my recollection is that in 1987, Joe and Mack Fields (the current majority owners of the ski corporation stock) were in a dispute with the State of Alaska about the right-of-way for Ester Dome Road.  They tried to reroute the road around their property, but ultimately, the state in essence played the Eminent Domain card and raised a number of issues about the "Detour" the Fields brothers had put in, that it was unsafe, no guardrails, etc.

As I say, I can remember as a kid seeing some of the remnants of the old tow rope structure in the woods on the north side of the road.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Liam Wescott
Fairbanks, Alaska

 

 

Note:  Ullrhaven ski area site is private property.  The property is posted and owned by Mac Fields / the Alaska Ski Corp.  Please respect the property owner.

 

 

"Ullrhaven" ... a unique name, but what does it mean?  Trond Jensen, a Norwegian / Alaskan skier, provided this explanation:

Ull, son of Siv and Tor, is the god of skiing and hunting in Norse mythology.  He was a great archer, skier and warrior, and he is said to be beautiful.  In some circles he is said to be Odin's competitor,  Other forms of his name: Ullr, Ullin, Uller, Oller.  His house, Ydalir, lies in the fortified city of Aasgaard in Midgard (the abode of human beings).

 Haven means garden.

 So, literally translated, Ullrhaven means Ullr's garden or Ullr's place.

 

 

Do you have further information, stories or pictures that you would like to contribute about this ski area?